Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ½
In 2010, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command created Cultural Support Teams, a pilot program to put women on the battlefield alongside Green Berets and Army Rangers on sensitive missions in Afghanistan. The idea was that women could access places and people that had remained out of reach, and could build relationships—woman to woman—in ways that male soldiers in a conservative, traditional country could not. Though officially banned from combat, female soldiers could be “attached” to different teams, and for the first time, women throughout the Army heard the call to try out for this special ops program.
Over the last few months, there has been a lot of discussion about the opening of combat roles in the military to women. Discussions about should women be allowed in these traditional male roles? can they carry the same weight? various services have conducted different studies to see how women perform in these training pipelines – but few people know that women have been in combat roles for several years – serving alongside men in the special operations, including Army Delta forces. In fact, while I had heard of these women in passing, I knew next to nothing about these ground breaking women, so when I came across Ashley’s War in the library, it seemed like a good choice for something to read.
At its heart, Ashley’s War is a fairly simple read, but the depth of emotion held within resulted in me crying and nearly crying several times throughout. Its a story of sisterhood; or pushing yourself beyond what you believe capable; or providing evidence that women do have a place in direct combat roles. What started out as a “social experiment” as many anti-women in combat folks like to say, soon emerged as a way for the US to tackle the empty cavern that was the female half of population in the villages, soldier’s often ended up in their pursuit of Taliban. The women of the Combat Support Teams (or CST’s) aided in identifying members of Taliban hiding in the general population because they were able to talk to female members of the population, who previously were not included in interrogations. There wasn’t anything special about these women – they were daughters, wives, and sisters; Academy graduates and ROTC, regular Army and National Guard – but each of them were special in their own way. Each of them were trail blazers for the women in the military today and the into the future.
By the end of the book I was a blubbering mess – even though going into it, I knew what was going to happen to the title solider (thank you huge spoilers in the description!). But reading how she died and how the unit that she was supporting did their best to save her and the others that were injured in the IED detonation; the reading of the recollections of the other members of the CST who had trained with Ashley when they realized she had been killed…I think I’m almost glad that I was reading this book and not listening to the audiobook like I had originally intended.
This book is a must read for anyone who wants to learn about what our Combat Support Teams did in Afghanistan; and anyone who wants to see what the role of women in combat can truly be.